Publicly admitting you read comics means you’re willing to put up with a perplexingly persistent notion of the medium as the exclusive domain of the super heroes. Even in the current realm of savvy pop art dabblers as likely to pray at the altar of independents like Image Comics as they are the Big Two there’s this lingering idea that in the beginning there was only the cape and spandex set and it’s just in the past three decades that we’ve really let in the serious Graphic Novelists and autobio peddlers. Sneering intellectual jokesters will spit at the funnybooks without recognizing the origins of that alternate name and basement dwelling dilettantes will tell you it was only when the bearded British men came to our shores that we got hip. But comics have always been weird. Comics have always contained multitudes.On a weekly basis at the start of the 20th century, Winsor McCay cranked out surrealist panel breaking masterpieces lushly detailed enough to inspire both Dali and Moebius decades down the line, with nary a cape in sight. Before Marvel was even an idea, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created romance comics, presaging the soap operas that would eventually inspire Chris Claremont’s convoluted narratives in that other misbegotten Kirby co-creation X-Men. And then there was Herbie. Continue reading…
Posted July 21, 2011
It’s summer time and instead of beer bottles exploding out of coolers in a shower of refreshing ice, bikini-clad hotties and fireworks as we know it should be, everything is wilting and perhaps even melting. As far as I can tell there are only two possible explanations—Hot Lava Monsters have readjusted the earth’s thermostat to facilitate their impending conquest or Heat Miser has finally won his eternal struggle with Cold Miser.
Either way, huddle close to your window air conditioner or three-speed fan, don your coolest slip like Maggie the Cat and enjoy these seven summer reads.
If Michael Bay has scarred your mind, hurting you inside whenever you even think of your beloved Autobots or Deceptacons, you can replace the terrible memory of his movies with Jeffrey Brown’s excellent loving parody homage. I already wrote about volume one, but the story of the Change-Bots incredibly changing the planet when they brought their war to earth and its aftermath as Shootertron suffers amnesia go best together. And if you’ve been fortunate enough to still have a brain free of Michael Bay contamination, just pretend Incredible Change-Bots were the franchise. The world would be a better place if Incredible Change-Bots had been—animated and colored with markers, of course.
Infinite Kung Fu (Top Shelf, 2011) Kagan McLeod
In a postapocalyptic future, the world is beset by zombies. You might yawn at a postapocalyptic struggle for survival and I still suffer from zombie fatigue, but there’s no reason for ennui because McLeod’s solution for the undead? Kung Fu! Sammo Hung and Mr. Vampire have proven there’s very little better than kung fu horror. Mirroring his mix of horror and kung fu fantasy, McLeod adds his own fresh art style combining traditional and hip hop brushwork. McLeod started Infinite Kung Fu many years ago. In fact, I scored an issue at Toronto’s Kung Fu Fridays back in the day; McLeod also did some fine art for KFF flyers and posters. But most of this work is new—read the first 250 pages here.*
Modesty Blaise: The Gabriel Set-Up, also featuring La Machine, The Long Lever and In the Beginning (Titan Books, 2004) Peter O’Donnell, writer; Jim Holdaway, art.
Modesty Blaise started with a strip in 1963, continued in newspapers and novels until 1996 and in film from 1966 to 2003. But she is best in comics. She is, as Mike Paterson’s introduction has it, “Bond shaken, stirred, sex-changed and slugged” set in the strict discipline of the daily newspaper strip, three panels at a time. A child displaced by War World II, Blaise grew up to take over a criminal gang in Tangiers and turn it into a vast organization known as The Network, aided by her faithful friend, Willie Garvin. Blaise and Garvin retired in England, until they were recruited by the British government as covert agents, but, make no mistake, Blaise is in control. O’Donnel’s thriller narrative flows with no interference from the three panel format in Titan’s nice large collections. Holdaway’s reminds me a littel of fashion layouts even when Blaise brutally breaks a fresh American millionaire’s nose with an elbow strike.
Pogo (Fantagraphics/Kitchen Sink/Simon and Schuster) Walt Kelly
It seems like it’s always summer in Okefenokee Swamp, at least the summer in my head—humid and steamy. Pogo the possum lives in the swamp with his friends Albert the Alligator and Churchy LaFemme the turtle, as well as a cast that expanded into thousands in Kelly’s daily strip. While Pogo was a “funny animal” strip, it often contained satire that still resonates 60 or 70 years later. The Jack Acid Society Black Book, covering the McCarthy Era and the formation of the John Birch Society, makes for eerie reading now. But satire and politics aside, what’s best about Pogo is Kelly’s sheer joy in drawing and playing with language. Pogo is available in a variety of formats from various publishers, from Simon and Schuster’s original book-sized collections to Fantagraphics’ larger strip-friendly format.
Rocketeer: The Complete Deluxe Edition (IDW Publishing, 2010) Dave Stevens, writer/artist; Laura Martin, colorist.
1930s air circus pilot Cliff Secord discovers a top secret rocket pack stowed in his show plane and plans to use it to make a little extra scratch to try to keep his beautiful girlfriend, Betty, who looks a helluva lot like Bettie Page. Betty doesn’t want him for his money but a lot of people want him for that rocket pack, including G-Men and Nazi spies. First published in 1982, Rocketeer hearkens back to serial heroes like Commando Cody with extra pin-up girl action. IDW prints some of the prettiest books around and this Rocketeer collection is worth lingering over. Stevens was one of the best artists in comics and Rocketeer in Secord’s first launch captures the unfettered joy and terror of flight and art.
Thor: Mighty Avenger (Marvel, 2010-11) Roger Langridge, writer; Chris Samnee, penciller/inker; Matt Wilson, colorist.
Thor Mighty Avenger got lost in the the flood of Thor comics coming out just before the recent movie, but didn’t survive beyond two short volumes. Apparently, its end was a surprise since volume 2 contains a farewell from Langridge, Samnee and Wilson as well as in character designs for projected stories. It’s too bad, because Thor: Mighty Avenger is an unusual book—a superhero romance comic. There is plenty of fighting and team-ups with an non-jerky Hank Pym, Ant Man, and Janet Pym, The Wasp, as well as Prince Namor, The Submariner, and Iron Man in volume two. But Thor’s relationship with museum curator Jane Foster is central. Thor’s been exiled from Asgard, but doesn’t remember why. Jane helps him. It’s a story that’s been told before, an origin story, but it’s execution that counts and Thor is thoroughly charming. It has many of the virtues of all ages comics—it requires almost no familiarity with Thor or Marvel continuity, story arcs are short and complete in themselves, and because it is limited in the kind of adult material that can be shown, the comic ends up more adult in its focus on love and friendship.
Vampire Loves (First Second, 2006) Joann Sfar
Whether or not you’re on a romantic summer cruise filled with phantasms, werewolves, mystery and intrigue , Vampire Loves puts you right there. Ferdinand is a sad vampire with a complicated love life and a taste for the wrong ladies. He decides to go on a cruise to sort himself out after his girlfriend Liana leaves him for a swamp monster, but discovers a phantom lady, a swinger werewolf and a gang of mummies, mystery as well as intrigue and derring-do among its passengers. Vampire Loves is technically a Professor Bell adventure, like The Professor’s Daughter, but it stands alone just fine.
*Full disclosure: Former Kung Fu Friday’s programmer, Colin Geddes, who provided the foreward for Infinite Kung Fu, also kindly provided a blurb for The Cultural Gutter book.
Carol Borden, for one, welcomes our Hot Lava Monster overlords.
Carol received review copies of Incredible Change-Bots 1 & 2; Infinite Kung Fu and Vampire Loves.